Venice is known for its eclectic surf culture and style but, unlike Huntington Beach and Malibu, has rarely hosted surfing contests.

Now that has changed, at least for one day, as locals gear up for the Venice Centennial Surf Contest, put on through the efforts of local parents Tom Wright and Leigh Johnson, who formed a committee with local surf luminaries including Jeff Ho, board designer and owner of Venice’s legendary Zephyr Surf and Skate Teams.

The contest, which will have about 140 contestants in eight divisions, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, July 9th, and continue throughout the day at the Venice Beach breakwater (ocean end of Windward Avenue), Venice. Spectator admission is free.

Also signing on to help make the event a success are well-known local surfer Alan Sarlo (now of Sarlo & Smith Real Estate of Coldwell Banker Marina del Rey), Strider Wasilewski of Quiksilver and Chris Oferhoser of Vans. The contest is put on with the rare blessing of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which often does not issue permits for surf contests or other public activities on crowded Venice Beach, but made exceptions for the Venice Centennial.

“I believe this is going to be the biggest surf contest that Venice has seen in its history,” says Ho.

Still, Ho, who has divided his time between Venice and the surfing mecca of Hawaii, admits that it’s a small contest in comparison to many he has seen, and there is a reason for that.

Although Venice has gained a national reputation for its surfing, it wasn’t for commercial interest in the area as a pro surf contest haven, it was for the attitude and style of its locals.

Venice’s surf contest history is spotty. Ho remembers the Santa Monica Residents contests in the Ocean Park area (not actually Venice but close) in the 1960s and Randy Wright, owner of Horizons West Surf Shop in Ocean Park, put on some local contests in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The grass-roots Surf-a-Thon contest has been organized annually by the Venice Surf and Skateboard Association for the past ten years at the Venice Beach breakwater, but last year was denied a permit by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

The dilapidated Pacific Ocean Park (POP) Pier was what made the renegade Venice surf scene of the 1960s and 1970s.

“The Pacific Ocean Park Pier was a world-class break, but it wasn’t known except by the Venice locals,” says Ho. “The surf spots in Venice have always been kept as kind of local secrets and didn’t receive much commercial attention.

“We wanted to keep the POP secret.

“The Venice Beach breakwater used to be hidden by oil wells and had a concrete wall around it, and that’s all people could see when they stood on the boardwalk.”

Ho says that now that POP is gone, the sand flow has shifted and so have Venice’s hot surf spots. The locals are still the ones hip to the best spots in Venice (hint: Venice still has a pier, just not the POP).

Ho was asked by Wright to help organize the contest when Wright’s son showed him the Sony Pictures documentary, Dogtown and Z-boys, which acknowledges Ho’s substantial contributions to Venice surf culture. Also, a fictionalized account of Ho’s 1970s Zephyr Skate and Surf Team Lordz of Dogtown was recently released as a major motion picture.

Personally, Ho says he sees the windfall of publicity his Zephyr team has received as a double-edged sword.

“These are greedy people trying to make a buck on something they have nothing to do with,” he says of all the recent Zephyr hype and merchandising.

That’s why Ho said he would only be involved with the Venice Centennial Surf Contest if it was for a noncommercial purpose. The contest is being used as a fundraiser for scholarships to the Los Angeles County Junior Lifeguard Program, which trains and certifies young aspiring lifeguards.

“The reasons I’m involved with this are to introduce people to the truly eclectic and different surf culture we have here, to make something fun for the kids and promote water sports and to make it a benefit for something worthwhile,” says Ho.

Information, (310) 305-7894.

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